A good SOP is well structured, well written but most importantly unique to you. Download a sample SOP and learn how to make your SOP stand out in a crowd
“I am not interested in what they did or how. I am keen to know why,” said a senior Admission Director in one of our campus visits in NYU.
SOP is where you tell that guy – why you did what you did and how it makes you the unique you.
Why do we need a SOP
GRE score can show whether you have the aptitude to understand the coursework or not. Your GPA and undergrad transcripts can show whether you have the necessary academic credentials for this program or not. Toefl shows if you will be able to communicate and hence, adjust well in an english speaking community or not.
But alas, you cannot capture the awesomeness of a human being in 3 scores. If that was the case, only the highest qualified will get admits to the Ivy Leagues. But what about that girl from small town in Africa who frickin’ fought against the societal bias and her closed minded aunts to dream of studying in USA! Or how about that IT guy from a tier 3 school in Indonesia who has mediocre grades but wants to be a data scientist!
Good schools want these super motivated candidates instead of uni-dimensional 10 pointers. And this is how, we came to the concept of SOP – its a Statement of Purpose. They want to know why you want to study this particular program in this particular school. It’s a story that tells them how you have come to this point in your life – what incidences have shaped your thinking, how you think, what will you do with your education and will you put it to a good use. And, what remains unsaid is – will you be a successful and good alum for the school?
Now that we have an understanding of what SOP is, let’s look at an example.
Sample SOP for CS
This is the real SOP of a candidate of ours who got into CMU MSIT, ASU MCS, NEU CS and TU Munich CS programs.
You can download the full PDF below.
Structure of a good SOP
There are a lot of samples available on Internet but what you will struggle with is finding out the right style for yourself. Of course, since these samples are available freely to everyone, you cannot copy them either.
So, let’s understand how to structure your SOP.
After 6 years of being in business and working with 500+ candidates, we have developed a deep understanding of what works. The problem is there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. But, to the extent that we can generalise, this is what we recommend.
The opening paragraph should give a solid summary of your profile to the admission committee. It should answer why you are applying to this program, what makes you qualified for it and what is impressive about you.
Start with a brief summary of your college life. Try to cover your relevant academic details here such as grades in important subjects, accomplishments (scholarship, hackathon prizes, TAship etc). Start talking about how your interests started evolving in college. Follow up with 1-2 important academic project paragraphs.
This is where you write about your internships, fulltime work experience and/or research experience. Talk about most relevant projects and what you learned from them.
Here, you can showcase your leadership and teamwork skills apart from anything meaningful you have done outside studies and work. People can talk about their serious hobbies, sports achievements, volunteering activities, experiences of leading a team in clubs etc.
Caveat – avoid cliches. If you were just a member of the IEEE club or volunteered for a simple event, that does not really count.
As we discussed above, the admission committee wants to see how does MS fit in with your plan. So, this section has to convince them that you know what you want to get out of your MS. Talk about your career goals and what will you do after MS.
This is a good time to read our other post which shows good example statements you can use in SOP
How to make your SOP unique?
As you can see, everybody can follow this structure but what is really hard is to personalize a SOP so that it stands out from the competition. It needs expert storytelling and multiple iterations to evolve a rough draft into a winning SOP. It has taken us years to perfect this process in our consulting.
Here are three pointers you need to keep in mind to make your SOP awesome-
- It should be genuine – Admission committee develops an eye for the fakers. If you keep telling how great you are and how you developed passion for microprocessors since childhood, no one is going to buy that. Don’t try to exaggerate unnecessarily. Keep it real.
- Address your salient strengths and weaknesses – Winning hackathons? Had low GPA because you went to participate in Formula SAE? Had to return to your hometown to take care of an ailing mother which caused a gap in your work? Only you can tell your story and you should.
- Your goals should make sense with your background – Everyone is applying for data Science these days even if they have never worked with ML or have any fundamental knowledge of statistics. If this is the case, you should ask yourself why are you applying to this program. If you cannot justify it yourself, how is the admission committee going to ever be convinced with it?
Don’t Use Templates
Please refrain from using templates given by counselors or websites. The whole point is to make your application stand out and by using a template (especially the ones where you just change your specific information), you are looking similar to thousand other applicants. In fact, try to write the first SOP yourself without seeing any sample SOPs. After writing the first draft, check out some good SOPs and tweak accordingly.
Download the Sample SOP in a PDF
Click here to download Sample CS SOP
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